Kate Connolly in Berlin
Mon, 2 May 2022, 3:05 pm
World Food Programme director says blocking of ports due to invasion means grain is ‘just sitting there.
The director of the United Nations World Food Programme in Germany has warned that millions of tonnes of grain is stuck in Ukraine due to sea ports being blocked by Russian military action.
Martin Frick said about 4.5 million tonnes of grain in containers at Ukrainian ports could not be shifted due to unsafe or occupied sea routes, some of which had been mined, as well as inaccessible ports.
“None of the grain can be used right now. It is just sitting there,” Frick told the German news agency dpa.
Ukraine is one of the world’s leading producers of wheat as well as being a major corn producer. About 30m tonnes of corn and about 25m tonnes of wheat were harvested in the country in 2020, according to the UN. Many countries in north Africa in particular are dependent for their basic food provision on low-cost wheat from Ukraine.
“The world urgently needs these items of food from Ukraine,” Frick said.
Despite the abundance of crops still available in Ukraine, the World Food Programme (WFP) said that since the start of the invasion on 24 February, it had had to provide 2.5 million Ukrainians with food support – the majority of them in Ukraine, as well as several hundred thousand in neighbouring Moldova.
“Foodstuffs have to reach those in Ukraine who are trapped and in need. But at the same time there is the need to provide other parts of the world with foodstuffs they are expecting from Ukraine, in order to alleviate a global food crisis,” Frick said.
Access to the ports for both incoming and outgoing goods was blocked, he said. He added that he feared food supplies were being used as a weapon in the conflict. “Hunger must not be used as a weapon, neither from a military, nor from an economic standpoint,” he said.
The German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has responded to the food crisis by pledging Germany would step in and help where there are food shortages as a result of the war, warning of the strong possibility of a global food crisis.
“This war will have consequences, consequences across the world,” he said on Sunday, addressing protesters who accused him of prolonging the war by sending weaponry into the country. “Right now we must concern ourselves with the fact that there are some people who will starve, that there are countries which will be unable to afford grain for their people and that this whole war situation could lead to a global hunger crisis.”
It was last week confirmed by the German government and DB Cargo, the logistics arm of the national rail operator, that plans to enable blocked supplies of grain as well as supplies elsewhere in the country, amounting to around 20m tonnes, to leave the country via rail were being worked on.
The plan, being called a “Getreidbrücke” or “grain bridge”, involves cooperation between Ukrainian Railways and the national rail operators of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania to ensure a network of interconnected routes across Europe.
“We are currently working on concrete details as to precisely how the grain bridge could be realised,” Michael Theurer, a parliamentary state secretary in the transport ministry, told the financial daily Handelsblatt. Theurer said leaving aside the logistical challenges, among the sticking points of the plan that were being hammered out by the finance, agriculture, economics and development ministry were how to finance the measures and legal questions over competition neutrality.
The trains that would be sent into Ukraine would be also bringing much needed agricultural machinery, including tractors and replacement parts, to support farmers who are sowing seeds for summer crops.
The operation is an extension of DB Cargo’s campaign “railbridge for relief aid” campaign, which began in March. Each train can transport 52 containers, amounting to several thousand tonnes of aid.